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How to conquer a plateau

plateauSo there you are: eating well, working out, minding your own business when all of the sudden your body stops changing. Your weight loss comes to a screeching halt and/or your body fat percentage stays remarkably the same. The scale has become your new sworn enemy because clearly it is full of lies and deceit.

Can I share a secret with you? 99% of people will hit a plateau at some point in their weight loss or fitness journey. Strikingly, nearly 90% of people on such a journey are convinced it won’t ever happen to them.

Guess what? It will. If you accept that now it will save you a ton of heartache in the future.

To figure out exactly how to conquer your plateau we need to start at the beginning. You started a new healthy lifestyle. Hooray, you! Your body responded well. Why? Sparked on by big changes, your body was all “Oooh this is fun – weight away!” and it responded to your challenge with vigor. Your first couple weeks you might have seen big numbers, mostly water weight, after which your body settled into a reasonable weight loss schedule.

Then, as if out of nowhere, while you were just getting used to that reasonable number, the numbers stopped dropping. Or perhaps they even went up a bit. Why? Let’s break this into two categories, weight loss and body fat loss; which, as we know, are two different things.


Weight Loss

Calories in. Calories out. Done and done. If your ultimate goal is a large weight loss number and you’ve stalled, pay attention to what your’e eating and how you’re exercising.

The biggest pitfall here is that when people start working out and eating healthy, they can allow themselves “treats” occasionally. You convince yourself that one unhealthy “treat” isn’t going to ruin anything because you’ve been working out. This mentality though can start to build steam quickly. What started as one night a week with fried food for dinner turned into one dinner with fried food, extra cake at lunch, and a couple more margaritas at happy hour. Are you justifying increasingly unhealthy eating habits?

So that’s your focus on calories in. When it comes to calories out, it’s time to think about changing up your exercise routine and yes, make it  harder. You cannot get away with working out exactly like you did 20 pounds ago. As we’ve discussed before, the larger you are, the more calories you burn during exercise. That means the 4.0MPH walk you did 20 lbs ago was a great way to burn 400 calories but is now only costing your body 150 (just to review: yes, those particular numbers are entirely random).

When does it get easier? If you’re doing it right, it never gets easier; you only get stronger. If you are doing the same thing you were doing when you started, change that immediately. Up your intensity and/or switch up your workout. That one workout DVD you’ve been doing three days a week for three months? It’s dead. Let it go. Let it go and you will improve your body fat loss and strength gains too.


Body Fat Loss (slash Strength Gain)

Did you read that one sentence up there? That one in bold? No? Go ahead and read it. Go on.

You need to do something different. You need to constantly challenge your body. Without challenges, your body exists in a happy place of body fat stasis. If you are doing the same thing week in and week out your body will become complacent. Those workouts will be second nature and your muscles will say “Oh, this exercise? Yea, we do this one all the time. No big deal, everyone stay calm.”

Yes, muscles speak and you can’t hear them but I can. That’s why they call me the muscle whisperer. True story.

I’m going to repeat myself for good measure here: If you’re doing it right, it never gets easier; you only get stronger. 

You need to be regularly adjusting the four factors of the FIIT principle: frequency, intensity, time, and type to see continual gains. Working out three days a week? Make it four. Working out at a 5/10? Make it a 7. Working out for 15 minutes? Make it 20. Working out at yoga all week? Add a day of strength training.


Know your body. Plateaus can also occur because of over training. Have you been running full speed ahead with maximal effort and no rest? Only you will know if your body is overtired and drained. If it is, listen. Avoid injury and get yourself through the plateau by taking it down a notch. It may seem counter intuitive to do less work but if your body is maxed out, you can do more harm than good by continuing to push yourself.


If however, you’re certain you aren’t pushing yourself too hard, here are some tips (because everyone loves easy to read lists) to help you stomp through this plateau and show your fat who’s boss:

1. Decrease sodium intake. This will help relieve your body of excess water weight and any bloating, ensuring that your weight loss efforts are focused on the fat instead of the water.

2. Vary your exercise routine incorporating the FIIT principle (frequency, intensity, time, type).

3. Write down what you’re eating. Think you might be at risk of subconsciously justifying indulging more than you should? This will help to keep you eating mindfully.

4. Cut calories by 100-200 per day. That small amount can subtract an additional one to two pounds of weight over the course of a month. Focus on clean, unprocessed foods as much as possible.

5. Move more. Take a walk on your lunch break or the evening after dinner. Take 10 minutes in the morning to stretch. Adding more activity to your routine adds up and every little bit of activity counts.


Whatever you do, know that you are not alone. Some plateaus last for weeks, some can last months. What matters is that you don’t let this deter you or send you into a downward “I give up” spiral of doom and gloom. This happens to nearly everyone. Even the best of the best will have a point when they need to reasses their routine. What makes the difference here is how you handle the challenge.

Do you fall to pieces and give up on yourself?

Or do you tell yourself that you are going to kick some serious plateau ass and use this to reinvigorate your fitness journey?

It’s up to you although I certainly suggest the latter option.


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